Our Triumph TR7 was use to try out the new Leisure Drives around Shakespeare Country
So popular now is the birthplace of the world-famous Elizabethan playwright that it is second only to London as a tourist hotspot.
However, there is so much more to discover in this lovely part of the country and we were here to search out some of the lesser-visited spots that are often overlooked by the hordes.
If you fancy touring the area in style and dont mind attracting a little bit of attention along the way, why not hire a classic car for the day?
We eagerly took the wheel of a natty green Triumph TR7 provided for us by The Open Road Classic Car Hire. Operating since 1997, the company offer cars for hire in the Stratford and Cotswold areas and have attracted customers from all over the world.
Our driving route had been meticulously planned by South Warwickshire Tourism with the South Warwickshire Association of Tourist Attractions (SWATA). They have launched four circular tours the Arden, the Stoneleigh, the Edgehill and the Feldon tour, all meandering through some of the countys most picturesque villages and avoiding wherever possible the busy major roads.
Encompassing the towns of Warwick, Kenilworth, Royal Leamington Spa and Stratford, and linking them with pretty villages and rural attractions, the routes vary between 39 and 53 miles long. Designed to be completely flexible, the drives can be started at any point and are described in detail on a separate leaflet.
We chose to squeeze two of these tours into a single days sightseeing, in an attempt to see as many attractions as possible.
The Feldon tour led us through the southern part of Warwickshire and to the edge of the Cotswolds. Commencing in Stratford, we passed through the villages of Lower and Upper Quinton and Mickleton, home of The Three Ways House Hotel and its famous Pudding Club.
Our first stop was Hidcote Manor Garden, one of the most famous modern gardens, laid out by Major Lawrence Johnson over forty years. Visitors wander through a series of hedged rooms linked by corridors. The gardens are also renowned for the beautiful roses, rare shrubs and trees.
Next stop was Chipping Campden, one of the prettiest of the Cotswold villages, with its main street lined with thatched, golden-hued cottages.
The National Trust-owned Snowshill Manor, a little further south, is a handsome Tudor house furnished with an extraordinary collection of items by the eccentric Charles Paget Wade. Its rooms are bursting at the seams with such diverse items as Victorian prams, musical instruments, clocks, toys and bicycles. It also has a room devoted entirely to Japanese armour.
Packwood House, with its lavish interior, was our first port of call at the beginning of our afternoon tour, The Stoneleigh. Make sure you allow time to visit the unusual Yew Garden with its immaculate topiary, and look out for the bee boles, built to protect bees from the weather, hidden in the Garden Terrace wall.
We also made a flying visit to Baddesley Clinton, an enchanting, medieval moated house with a pretty lakeside walk and nature trail.
South Warwickshire has plenty of homely bed and breakfast accommodation to choose from and we stayed for two nights at the popular and extremely comfortable Croft Guest House in the village of Haseley Knob. With country pubs and the restaurants of Kenilworth and Warwick close by, there are many dining options.
Before heading home the following day we managed a couple of hours at Warwick Castle. Built on the banks of the River Avon soon after the Norman Conquest, it is one of Englands finest fortified castles, offering stunning views from its towers and ramparts. A word of advice: by mid-morning the ticket queue was several hundred yards long so its a good idea to arrive as soon after the 10am opening time as possible.
All of the drives deserve to be taken at a leisurely pace, and with the Arden and Edgehill still to complete Im sure well soon be heading back to this fascinating county. factfile
The leaflet detailing the four Leisure Drive tours is available from Stratford Tourist Information Centre on 01789 293127
The Open Road Classic Car Hire: For rates and availability Tel: 0845 070 5142